thanks but no thanks part 1

I graduated from high school in 2002. When I came back from college for winter break, I noticed that the subways and buses had been plastered with ads for “if you see something, say something”. Although it seems obvious that these ads are specifically geared to preventing terrorism, the signs and instructions are quite vague.

The “See something say something” campaign has potential to be damaging in a variety of ways. The city is filled with potentially “suspicious” packages and characters; how is post-9/11-suspicious different from what pre-9/11 we called diversity?

If we called the police every time a “suspicious package”, an individual in “bulky clothing”, or “suspicious activity” appeared on a subway platform, the city would cease to function.

I always like to make a mental note of suitcases or unattended packages that would warrant “saying something” – if I didn’t know better. The vagueness of the word “suspicious” is an open invitation for service delays on subways, and traffic delays in the street. Not to mention, it is easy to forget that we are looking for terrorists and a successful terrorist’s job is to not look suspicious.

A friend from college moved to New York about a year ago. She recently posted on facebook that she saw a “shady guy” outside of her window. Invoking the “see something say something” guidelines, she called the police. In a hip and selectively charming way she described her conversation with the police officer. She said she “saw”, a man standing on her corner in a puffy jacket, and so she “said something”. The police officer asked if the gentleman was African American. Ugh. It would have been so much better if the officer asked if the gentleman appeared to be Middle Eastern. Even though it would still be racial profiling, at least it would be slightly more consistent with the intention of the ad campaign…

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